What they say is true: Breakups suck. But in the days and weeks and months after, I learned more about myself than I have in my twenty-three years of life, and as a result, the things you should not do after a breakup.
I remember it like it was yesterday. After it happened, I drove home in the pouring rain, the rhythmic scrape of my windshield wipers drowning out the plaintive indie song on the radio. It was almost a scene borrowed straight from a movie—a grotesque, sad cliché. In my trunk was a shoebox he had given me right before I left, filled with memorabilia from all of our moments together. A wine cork from my 23rd birthday dinner at a fancy steakhouse. A receipt from a museum tour we had gone on during a trip to Chicago. A movie ticket from one of our first dates, with the words “this girl is incredible” scrawled on the back of it.
Until I got back to my apartment, it didn’t truly hit me, the reality of what had just happened. I looked inside the fridge and saw the Chinese takeout leftovers we had eaten together the night before. I was struck by the fragility of that moment, by the things that could no longer be, and that’s when the grief overtook me, so suddenly that I keeled over. I cried, deep, heaving sobs that left me gasping for air.
I read once that we are the sum total of all our memories, of all the people and places and experiences we encounter along our way. Perhaps that’s why breakups are so hard: Every time you leave a relationship, you leave with a shoebox full of broken memories. You have to pick up the pieces and glue yourself back together.
You can watch all the rom coms and listen to all the Sam Smith songs you want, but until that’s you, sobbing in the kitchen on a rainy February day, nothing can prepare you for the pain of a breakup. In the weeks after my breakup, I had never felt so hopeless and listless and lost in my life. I experienced a profound roller coaster of emotions: loneliness, grief, regret, doubt and despair. I tried everything they tell you to do. I surrounded myself with friends, exercised like a fiend, wasted a lot of money on new clothes and manicures and blowouts, kept myself busy. But nothing worked. I couldn’t seem to move on.
At the suggestion of my parents, I finally decided to talk to a therapist. I was a little apprehensive—I had never been to a therapist before. Would it be a waste of time? Would I feel awkward? Did I even need a therapist? In spite of my initial reservations, the experience proved to be incredibly cathartic and enlightening. I poured my soul out on the therapist, telling him about all of my uncertainties and fears and doubts about the future. At one point, he leaned back in his chair and pointedly said:
“You know what I call that?” he said. “Stinky thinking.”
I must have furrowed my eyebrows, because he said: “Do you know what ‘rumination’ means?”
“You’re ruminating. You’re constantly obsessing over these negative thoughts, and it’s driving you crazy.”
That’s when I realized what he was getting at: I was my own worst enemy. I was a prisoner to my own thoughts, torturing myself by constantly replaying the past, hung up on "what ifs?" Unless I changed my thinking, I would never be able to move on.
My breakup taught me several things. I learned that heartbreak is the greatest teacher. I learned how to be alone again. To be patient. To be comfortable with uncertainty. That no relationship is more important than the one you have with yourself. That happiness must come from within; no one else can hand it to you.
If you’re going through a similar situation, here are four things I learned that you should NOT do after a breakup.
1. Don’t “ruminate”
It’s okay to give yourself a few days to wallow in self-pity and cry it out. Honestly, it wouldn’t be healthy if you didn’t give yourself time to grieve. But don’t dwell on the past too much. What happened, happened, and no amount of obsessive thinking can change that.
2. Don’t isolate yourself
After a breakup, you'll probably want to sit alone in your apartment with a container of Ben And Jerry’s and watch every single Nicholas Sparks movie you can get your hands on. But the most important thing you can do right now is to surround yourself with your support group. Breakups create a tremendous void in your life. You've grown accustomed to constant contact with that one person, and when they’re gone, it’s easy to feel lost and listless. So whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself. Ask your BFF if she’d like to go on a walk or grab some coffee or plan a trip home and spend some time with your family.
3. Don’t contact your ex
Another no-no: Constantly communicating with your ex. It’s SOOO tempting to want to shoot your ex a text to “say hi” (especially when you’ve had a few glasses of wine and are feeling vulnerable), but you must immediately sever all ties with your ex. I can’t emphasize this enough. Trying to “be friends” or “catch up” will leave both parties feeling confused and sad. The same goes for “seeking closure.” Can’t seem to stop yourself? Block your ex’s phone number. It will help control your impulses on those lonely Friday nights when you’ve had some cocktails.
4. Don’t stalk them on social media
“Who is this girl who keeps liking all of his photos?” “Wait, did she seriously just post a photo with another guy?!” “Ugh, he’s going out tonight…and he looks so cute…” Seriously, stop. Stop looking at his Facebook, stop stalking his Instagram, just stop. If you must, block him across all social media accounts to erase any temptation to “see what he’s up to.” Because stalking will drive you crazy, I promise.
No matter how sad or terrible or soul-crushing, every breakup story has a happy ending. It might not be the stuff of fairy tales, but sometimes love looks like this: I got myself up. And I walked. I don’t know yet where I’m going, but I know I’ll find my way.
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